77. THE BEES – EVERY STEP’S A YES (2010)

  If I said The Bees were masters of space and time, you may imagine them to sound something like Hawkwind. They don’t – but I suspect they have heard a fair amount of Hawkwind. In fact, they’ve probably listened to more records than just about any other band around – absorbing such an extensive array of influences from the popular music of the last 50 years that, listening to their albums, one finds oneself constantly attempting (usually unsuccessfully) to join the sonic dots. The Bees’ genius lies in their ability to sew beautiful new garments out of tired old rags. Some touchstones are immediately obvious – take for example the momentary snippet on ‘Change Can Happen’ where the phrasing and even lyrics are suddenly lifted from ‘That’s The Story Of My Life’ (Velvets’ 3rd) or consider how the fadeout of ‘Silver Line’ recalls the gassy euphoria of The Monkees’ ‘Teardrop City’. The Bees are masters of time because the spectrum of influences from which they have drawn – early Pink Floyd, Incredible String Band, Ravi Shankar, CSNY, Shack, roots reggae, Tropicalia et al – is not flaunted unashamedly, but is rather woven so inconspicuously into the band’s sound as to make it unmistakably their own. And against all the odds, their music sounds peculiarly modern.

‘Every Step’s A Yes’, their fourth LP, bears all the time honoured hallmarks of the ‘classic album’ – clocking in at 42 minutes (unusually short for the digital age), it’s ten beautifully crafted songs make for a brilliantly eclectic amalgam of sounds: slow ones and fast ones, toe tappers and ballads – characteristics of those indisputably great LPs of the past. It’s the kind of album which many of us middle-aged folk might find reassuringly familiar. In that sense it may be expedient to be a more mature listener (in years) to garner a true appreciation of it. And yet I am always struck by just how fresh and immediate it sounds. Sure, you’ll find nothing revolutionary here. When the album was released in October 2010, empires did not collapse, nor buildings fall. In fact, it’s probably fair to say, barely anyone noticed at all.

The Bees hail from the Isle of Wight. Perhaps that distance from the mainland has accentuated a sense of ‘otherness’. Because of that, their music betrays not the slightest hint of affectation. I imagine they are less tainted than more connected urban artists by the desire to be fashionable, to be part of a scene, whatever that means these days. They have utilised that space, that separate-ness to its full advantage. They use space in more creative ways too. For instance they recorded their debut album (the Mercury Music Prize-nominated) ‘Sunshine Hit Me’ in a small garden shed. The results – a kaleidescopic potpourri – virtually defied science. As if to emphasise their versatility, they recorded the next album at Abbey Road. The Bees demonstrate masterful control of the way sounds are arranged – the way the instruments move away from one another, at times creating beautifully eerie gaps (the keyboard on ‘Island Love Letter’, the strings on ‘Skill Of The Man’ for example).

‘Every Step’s A Yes’ has a relaxed energy (a ‘more mature’ sound, singer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Butler stated) while triumphantly showcasing their extraordinary palette. The buoyant opener ‘I Really Need Love’ has all the ravishing freshness of a sun-bursting early spring morning – he’s in love and the whole world’s going to know about it (“I wish that love will come/for each and every one/and I know I’m gonna get me some/in the shadow of the sun”) – with a simple breezy acoustic strum for accompaniment the whole thing then takes off in a swirling crescendo of sitars and soaring strings.

Alongside a brush of harp and crisp stinging guitar lines, ‘Winter Rose’ succumbs to a prime slice of horn-locking Lovers’ rock. In sharp contrast the stark folk-rock of ‘Silver Line’ could have slipped off the run out groove of Moby Grape’s debut album, while the controlled reverb in the panoramic production of ‘No More Excuses’ is astounding – one moment the guitars are like little ripples of water gently brushing the boats on the shore, the next they are twisting psych fizzballs worthy of The Chocolate Watchband or The Strawberry Alarm Clock. The arrangements here are exquisite (fiddle, harp, sitar, clavinette, harmonica, trumpet all chip in with a cameo appearance) but the production is never for a second over-bearing – somewhere between Syd’s Pink Floyd and Lennon twixt Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, it’s sublime harmonies soar effortlessly past steeples and peaks to scale the heavens. 

‘Tired Of Loving’ is a pretty if sorrowful plaint with ear melting West Coast harmonies. Then comes a spellbinding triple salvo: ‘Island Love Letter’ recalls the gorgeous ghostly lullabies of mid-period Incredible String Band or even Vashti Bunyan’s naively delicate charm. ‘Skill Of The Man’ has the sort of languid somnolence which Mick Head strove to perfect on the longer tracks from his superb Magical World Of The Strands LP, except that it is in every way superior. And warmer. And that’s a big compliment. Narcotic oblivion beckons with ‘Pressure Makes Me Lazy’, a blissed out potion of drifting guitars horns and strings. Glorious stuff. The album’s closer ‘Gaia’ (the nearest we have to a hit here), recorded with neo-folk wizard Devendra Banhart, is a rallying climax which abruptly brings to halt the ultra-soporific haze by means of a mariachi flavoured Spanish fiesta, calling to mind the band’s earlier flirtation with Latin sound, their cover of Os Mutantes’ ‘A Minha Menina’.

This is not some sub-Weller ‘worthy dad rock’ studiously indebted to rock tradition and empty posturing. The Bees are music lovers, first and foremost: there are no big egos involved, no lascivious tales of rock’n’roll excess. Instead, ‘Every Step’s A Yes’ is the sort of record you might imagine Syd Barrett, David Crosby or Skip Spence having made if they’d just held it together for a little while longer. Unlike those three however – it’s not a fragile album on the verge of disintegration, but rather an assured and confident work. It might well sound like the best album of 1968, or perhaps 1974. It was comfortably one of the finest in 2010, and if it sounded a little out of step to some at the time, that is only because perfectly balanced modern pop albums are a rare commodity these days. I urge you to get your hands on it – it is truly one to treasure. (JJ)

76. THE BIRTHDAY PARTY – PRAYERS ON FIRE (1981)

 Amongst the faded denim and the tired looking mohicans, a new breed of pale-faced malcontent was transfiguring the clientele of the early-80’s UK student union. Their necks were craned, but they seemed taller, their hair stacked up in a wild black pile. The uniformity of their appearance was sealed by the mandatory Bauhaus t-shirt. These children of the night were early ‘goths’. Their newest darlings, The Birthday Party, had just arrived from the other side of the globe and with their pulverising sound were aiming to shake the earth off its very axis.

Australia did not have a particularly well-established rock scene before 1977, but in Sydney the touch paper had been lit by Radio Birdman, while Brisbane boasted a burgeoning punk scene led by The Saints. On the Southern coast, the family trees of Melbourne’s Young Charlatans and The Boys Next Door (who should have been sued under the terms of the Trades Description Act for their deceptively innocuous moniker) would soon become intertwined through the defection of guitarist Rowland S Howard from the former to the latter. Providence would reveal the polar aspects of her nature to the two bands. The Young Charlatans’ 15 minutes of fame had fizzled out, their brief brush with immortality over. By contrast, for the Boys Next Door, their time had most surely arrived.

Howard was a highly original guitarist (equal parts Will Sergeant, John Waddington and Zoot Horn Rollo) with a penchant for dark, deathly blues music and a singular ear for howling feedback (he strove to make his guitar “sound like bee stings”). His influence was integral in reshaping the direction the band would take. The song he brought with him, ‘Shivers’, gave new impetus to this group of disaffected former public schoolboys (consisting of singer/lyricist Nick Cave, bassist Tracey Pew, guitarist/keyboard player Mick Harvey and drummer Phil Calvert), whose punishing gig schedule harnessed for them a reputation for notoriety in their homeland. They released an album (‘Door Door’) which they later disowned, but the lure of finding a wider audience for their music proved irresistible and the band soon packed their bags and moved to London in 1980. They renamed themselves The Birthday Party and, perhaps brutalised (or at least alienated) by their experience of living in virtual squalor in London, were possessed of a seemingly insatiable urge to inject a nightmarish violence and sense of the macabre into their live repertoire, their chaotic performances always on the verge of imploding.

Having resolved never again to use a record producer following ‘Door Door’, the band began work themselves on ‘Prayers On Fire’. Once again however, they would be less than happy with the results, and it is an album which is consistently overlooked in favour of its follow up ‘Junkyard’, which, while certainly more representative of the classic Birthday Party sound, lacks I fear, it’s predecessor’s unfettered explosion of ideas. Here, on ‘Prayers On Fire’ is a band seeking an authentic voice of their own. Sometimes the journey, the adventure undertaken in getting to the destination is far more thrilling than the destination itself.

We can hear the evolution of their sound unfolding on the album. Virtually the entire second side side prefigures the creeping cobwebbed claustrophobia of Junkyard – with the exception of ‘Dull Day’, which rather bizarrely, reminds me of Madness (?) – there is a sepulchral bone-crushing intensity with little variety in tempo. The first side by contrast displays the full range of their armoury.

It’s opening track, ‘Zoo Music Girl’, sounds as if the starting gun to the village idiots’ 100 metres dash has gone off prematurely – to the participants, the lanes on the track are there not to maintain order, but to hurdle, vault or if at all possible, ignore completely. Pew pulses his bass into paroxysms, while each demented line Cave expels (“My body is a monster driven insane/My heart is a fish toasted by flames…”), collapses on top of the preceding one. Perhaps a little embarrassed by some of the lyrical extremities (“Oh God! Please let me die beneath her fists”), Cave later disowned this as well, but with its mariachi trumpet blaring as if the carnival has arrived in the middle of a riot, it is a fitting calling card to the album.

Listeners can sometimes confuse the person impersonating a character in a song for the person singing it. With Nick Cave this could be a dangerous business. Consider for instance the charmingly entitled ‘Nick The Stripper’ (“Nick The Stripper/A-hideous to the eye/Well he’s a fat little insect/A fat little insect…he’s in his birthday suit…”) His fascination with the grotesque and with creeping invertebrates is further explored on ‘King Ink’ (“King Ink feels like a bug/Swimming in a soup-bowl”) which is a musical prelude to ‘Junkyard’ and (apparently) the song from the album with which Cave was most pleased.

‘Cry’ is like the Bunnymen on bad acid, while listening to ‘Capers’ has me visualising a hallucinogenic-fuelled Frankenstein swaying from side to side down the wide staircase of a haunted mansion, the chandeliers chiming together above, echoing their sound through its labyrinthian chambers. Howard takes over vocal lead on ‘Ho Ho’ which consequently sounds uncharacteristically restrained. It’s a subtly atmospheric piece and one can imagine why he sought more creative influence within the band. If it provides momentary respite, then the unholy carnage returns on ‘Figure Of Fun’ where frenetic guitars fizz, yelp and squeal producing as much panic as might result from a rattlesnake being dropped onto of a cartload of chimpanzees. Howard sounds like he’s deriving a sadistic delight in contriving a unique method of torture for each guitar string. There is brilliant bleak humour here of course, amidst the epileptic rhythms. (“I am a figure of fun/Obsessive, dead-pan and moribund/And I’m impressed by everyone/But I impress no-one/It’s irritating/I am a figure of fun”)

The final track ‘Just You & Me’ encapsulates the surreal dementia of Cave’s writing – as a youthful devotee it created much mirth in our household as we struggled to imagine what the subject of the song could be (“First: I tried to kill it with a hammer/Thought that I could lose the head/Sure! We’ve eaten off the silver/When even food was against us...”) We detected the darkest humour, though we may not have properly understood it.

Those other goths always seemed such a humourless bunch. Along with The Banshees they may have unwittingly spawned the whole God-forsaken subculture, but The Birthday Party had drawn their inspiration as much from the classical rock’n’roll lineage of The Stooges, The New York Dolls and Captain Beefheart as from the horror movies and gothic literature over which their ravenous disciples obsessed. Of their contemporaries, there were some genuine kindred spirits: the scratchy energy of The Pop Group, the trash aesthetic of The Gun Club and The Cramps and The Fall’s grimy rockabilly. But not Bauhaus. By contrast to The Birthday Party, Bauhaus are as significant as a bubble on the surface of the ocean.

Following ‘Prayers On Fire’, Cave poked fun at the admiring Munster hordes, recording the sardonic ‘Release The Bats’. Paradoxically, it became the goth anthem and the band’s most celebrated moment. But The Birthday Party’s days were numbered. Pew was in prison following a string of drunk driving offences. Howard and Cave had become estranged creatively – pulling the band in different directions. The classic clash of egos played out, and within the year, after a brief resurgence in Berlin, they would call it a day. The birth of The Bad Seeds would follow quickly. Cave would emerge stronger than ever from the wreckage. With The Birthday Party he had pushed himself to the edge of insanity. In their wilful recklessness, they created an unholy pandemonium laced with the blackest humour, but were never afraid to poke fun at themselves as well as others. There were few if any like them and we could certainly do with a bit of their snarl and bite today. (JJ)

 

75. THE HIGH LLAMAS – GIDEON GAYE (1994) / (A) HAWAII (1996)

GIDEON GAYE (1994) 

 To begin at the beginning…Gideon Gaye is a record which creates a self-contained world, a place unto itself with its own cohesion, internal logic and quite possibly laws as well. It’s the kind of record which redeems the tainted notion of the concept album and shows that they don’t have to recount the stereotypical adventures of the intrepid warrior as he sets out to retrieve the golden artichoke from the five-headed basilisk. They don’t even need to tell a story at all, just have a thematic integrity and unity and, amid its recurring musical motifs, there’s a sense on Gideon Gaye of shifting scenes around a community (possibly the one on the cover, where a Gilliam-like collage depicts cottage, cathedral and skyscraper improbably nuzzling up to each other under glowering De Chirico skies), of delving into lives for a snapshot and all this makes Gideon Gaye nothing as fatuous as a rock opera ( something which began and ended with Tommy) but as close as popular music has ever come to its own Under Milk Wood.

Highest Llama Sean O’Hagan has told TNPC, though, that it wasn’t conceived as a fully-formed suite or song cycle but that “it was obvious a musical theme was emerging” as the record took shape. Following the regrettable but perhaps inevitable demise of Microdisney (for further detail, see review 37 – Against Nature by Fatima Mansions, led by O’Hagan’s Microdisney partner Cathal Coughlan), O’Hagan delivered two engrossing if slightly tentative albums which embellished on the Microdisney template of finely etched, compulsively melodic songs, something he tells us culminated in “stifling professionalism-” always an occupational hazard when a major record company is clamouring for a hit.

A far smaller outlet, Brighton-based Target, would have had no such high-do demands and, under far broader influence than he was often given credit for (Albert Ayler, Fred Neil, Cluster) he declares he was ready for a change and “done with the Byrds and guitars.” Many observers, though, didn’t see beyond the layers of harmonies and the tidal melodies, and the obvious – in fact, somewhat lazy – Beach Boys comparisons must have left O’Hagan feeling like a comedian repeatedly entreated to reprise his catchphrase. Speaking of guitars, this was like the common experience of, say, Big Star or Orange Juice receiving the verdict “sounds like U2/Oasis/Coldplay” for no better reason than their preponderance of guitars.

Some were content to infer that the title of The Dutchman was a nod to the Holland album by all those Wilsons but how often did they have such swooning, swooping strings? Would they ever have sung about “streets that were laid with distress”? In fact, I detect several traces of the Bee Gees in the ’60s, when most everything they did was drenched in overwhelming, almost deranged melancholy, though High Llamas, while not averse to poignancy, never once tip into sentimentality. There’s also a wryness to the closing sound effect of a car hurriedly speeding off – what’s your hurry, Dutchman?
And so to the Escher staircase melody of Giddy and Gay, which has more layers than the Earth’s crust. A forthright organ is the song’s motor, yet more harmonies wonder at the “perfect sunset” and strings offer a wordless, five-note refrain which could get heads swaying at Traitors’ Gate. They have sinister siblings lower in the mix which climb so high that they almost require the invention of a new scale – and even get to kick the whole album off with their own opening track, Giddy Strings – while an almost imperceptible guitar tremolos tremulously and shows Duane Eddy a world he could only have dreamed of.

Checking In, Checking Out gathered respectable – if that’s the word I want and it probably isn’t – as a single, not only in its natural habitat of Mark Radcliffe and Marc ‘Lard’ Riley’s nightime Radio 1 show (my constant companion on hundreds of solitary East Lothian nights in the mid-90s) but also earlier in the day on a station busily establishing its laudable, albeit dogmatic, New Music First policy but still retaining traces of its recent, considerably less radical, past. With its spindly piano and acoustic guitar interplay and its sunburst bridge, it was easily comely enough to draw in listeners yearning for a return to the days of “pure quality” but the breaking-point tension O’Hagan produces on his climactic solo and the curious art installation of “dodgy sculptured licence plates” leave little doubt that the landscape of Gideon Gaye is no place for satin bomber jackets.
Landscaping of a different kind figures on The Goat Looks On, a title we should all give thanks for and a song easily worthy of it. A horrified account of disastrous planning decisions (“A supermarket on the hill/The way things happen makes you feel ill”) and the roughshod approach of those who take such decisions (“I’ll take your money, make it good/Take it to another neighbourhood”) set to the richest sound on the album, utterly belying is low-key origins. It does everything you hope a song like this would – it floats, chimes, gasps, swoops, then climaxes with the rhythm, as tethered as the goat itself, galloping for freedom, though the escape seems doomed.

Probably the most controversial song on Gideon Gaye is Track Goes By, not so much for its 14-minute length as for the manner of its going, a coda lasting well over half the song’s length which consists of sustained repetition of a six-note figure, garnished by flourishes of flute evoking Slim Slow Slider from Astral Weeks. On first listen, the title seems too apt – by the third or fourth, while this may linger, and the song may be more suited to the eight or so minutes it’s been known to be given live, it’s accompanied by a sense that the length is essential to make complete our visit to this place of dreamers, loners, artists, bureaucrats and assorted enigmatic animals.

It was, and remains, a triumph for Sean O’Hagan and his associates. It was probably too refined to have made much headway against Definitely Maybe or Parklife but, along with Portishead’s Dummy, it was the real herald of a belated start in earnest to a decade which had begun disastrously with a surfeit of Stone Roses, Nirvana and Wonder Stuff photocopies being taken seriously as contenders, rather than told to sit back down and eat their greens. It can offer a fresh perspective on this oddest of decades and help you to see its best side – not its worst (PG).

(A) HAWAII (1996) 

 One of the more curious entries listed in the original ‘Perfect Collection’ was ‘Discover America’ by Van Dyke Parks. Parks is of course the musical genius who worked with Brian Wilson on The Beach Boys’ ‘Smile’ project, his legacy immortalised by the salvaged fruit of that aborted collaboration, songs such as ‘Heroes & Villains’ and ‘Surfs Up’ now universally recognised as amongst the band’s greatest ever achievements. ‘Discover America’, although not the first VDP solo outing, is a very strange album indeed. Originally released in 1972, it was recorded with members of Little Feat and a Trinidadian Steel Band, largely in a bizarre calypso style. I imagine Sean O’Hagan the founder, composer and leader of The High Llamas to be very fond of it. The Llamas’ second full length album ‘Hawaii’ was released 20 years ago this week, and while the two records cannot really be equated stylistically, nevertheless the way they were conceived is not dissimilar, both being highly idiosyncratic panoptic musical odysseys.

Clocking in at over 76 minutes and featuring 29 tracks (although around ten or so serve as seams between the songs) ‘Hawaii’ was a hugely ambitious project, a sun-drenched compendium of chamber pop, bossa nova, sweeping Fordian (John, not Henry) Americana, pacific bluegrass, old-style waltzes, and Morricone inspired exotica, all glued together by bleary string passages and fragments of space-age electronica, reminiscent of O’Hagan’s synchronous work with Stereolab. The album is best listened to in its entirety; and does not lend itself particularly well to an iPod shuffle. Someone once remarked that if the tracks were rearranged on The Band’s second (eponymously titled) LP, it would be like jumbling up the chapters of a great novel. Well, the rupture to continuity would be similar with ‘Hawaii’, which – while on the subject of The Band – even features a nod to the pine forest wooziness of John Simon’s production, on the marvellously evocative ‘Pilgrims’.

If ‘Sparkle Up’ reminds me – in the best possible way – of the music from both the ITV soap Crossroads and Monty Norman’s Bond theme, then the swooning grace of ‘Literature Is Fluff’ calls to mind the soundtracks to Fellini’s ‘Juliet Of The Spirits’ and ‘La Dolce Vita’, with psych guitar buried beneath a swathe of baroque harpsichord and strings. Both ‘Peppy’ and the single ‘Nomads’ are pushed along by jaunty banjo and brass, while the wistful flute of ‘Cuckoo’s Out’ owes a nod to the dusky late summer languor of Joe Boyd’s production on ‘Bryter Layter’.

‘Doo Wop Property’ and ‘Island People’ once again showcase those strings which seem to yearn for a romantic return to a lost (gentler) golden age of America with as much nostalgia as Welles did in ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’. ‘The Hokey Curator’ is short but unbearably beautiful, containing a melting chord sequence ravishing enough to give Burt Bacharach sleepless nights. 

 The closest thing to a centre-piece on the album is perhaps ‘Ill-fitting Suits’, a truly sublime piano piece with slumberous meandering vibraphone, big kisses of brass punctuated with pizzicato, and washes of brooding cello – it makes a welcome reappearance as an instrumental reprise to the album. ‘Dressing Up The Old Dakota’ twists on the last flat note of the verses, giving new impetus to the beginning of each of the following ones, until from the mid-way point the string section and the old ivories get locked in a gloriously discordant tug-of-war. Meanwhile ‘Theatreland’ sounds more contemporary and conventional, the closest O’Hagan gets here to here to revisiting the sound of Microdisney, and ‘Campers In Control’ is R&B a la Llamas with its rising doo-wop rhythm given a shimmering makeover with harmonies befitting the late 60s sunshine pop of The Turtles or The Association. The musicianship throughout is superb, the arrangements beautifully measured, and for that much of the credit should be shared with multi-instrumentalist Marcus Holdaway, whom O’Hagan has credited as “the best musician I have ever encountered [who] has totally visualised the way I work.”

It has been a continual source of frustration for O’Hagan that his music is reduced to something akin to a facsimile of that which The Beach Boys produced between 1966-73. It is unquestionably much more than that. ‘Hawaii’ effortlessly transcends the perennial accusation that it is little more than an omnibus edition of ‘Friends’ or ‘Holland’, being sufficiently capacious to incorporate a veritable potpourri of influences. Speaking to TNPC, O’Hagan recalls: “The critics at the time simply could not keep up. They had no idea where we were going with these influences. There were plenty of British cinema references, a bit too of Gene Clark’s odd floundering LA Sessions, Nina Rota, Bernard Herman, Mingus. No critic heard any of this, even though the clues were jumping up and waving red flags!”

 Nevertheless, ‘Hawaii’ is an album which brought O’Hagan close to a commission to co-create with Brian Wilson a Beach Boys reunion album in the late 1990s. Sean’s brief encounter with the band might read as pure comedy gold (http://uncanny1.blogspot.co.uk/2005/05/brian-wilsonandy-paleysean-ohagan.html?m=1) but one imagines for O’Hagan himself, the humblest of souls, it must have been a most disquieting experience, cathartic even – and certainly, post-Hawaii, the influence of Wilson & co. seemed to be with each subsequent release, ever less discernible.

 The High Llamas never make Top 100 Albums lists, but to those that love their music, O’Hagan is quite simply a musical genius. He is sometimes unfairly criticised for a penchant for slipping all too comfortably into easy listening territory and also for his lyrical obtuseness. As regards the former point, well some people are simply too much the children of 1977 to make allowance for that. As for the lyrics, some have suggested he has cloistered his soul away – taciturn by nature, he seems unwilling to make his music a forum for wrestling with the complexities of existence; some that his rather abstract observations are designed so as not to detract from the sumptuousness of the music, a strategy followed by others such as The Cocteau Twins (few complained of their lyrical ‘deficiencies’). Not so. It is important to remember that O’Hagan’s first songwriting partner was Cathal Coughlan, highly literate, fiercely intelligent, “a writer of such originality and strength, my teacher”. O’Hagan has consciously steered away from writing anything which could be considered emotionally trite in his lyrics, most pop songs being for him “a string of cliche”, and while he acknowledges his own limitations, he has sought refuge and inspiration in the rich poetic strain of wordsmiths such as Parks, Dylan and Will Oldham. 

 And so there is a playfulness to the writing which, rather than invite a personal emotional response from the listener, invites us rather to conjure in our minds specific scenes in the imaginary lives of the songs’ protagonists: (“Take care to avoid the heavy stuff/I give up, this literature is fluff/Trawled through sketches of notes the night before/Chased the baffled employess floor to floor/Hung a ‘do not disturb’ on glass swing doors.”) This is a writer who clearly loves words as much as music, but words of love he shall not write. In their place, he documents the mini dramas of an amateur theatre company unfolding on a creaking old stage or observes a military operation undertaken to cordon off hotel grounds – we listen intently, sufficiently detached from the humdrum of their activities to enable us to create our own little mental retreat, a supine sanctum of uncommonly blissful sound. If ever there was a disc made for a desert island then this is it. (JJ)